SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – Party for Progress (PFP) Member of Parliament (MP) Melissa Gumbs took aim at what she calls a constant push for United States (US) pre-clearance to be established Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA).
US pre-clearance allows US-bound passengers to clear customs before their flight. In the Caribbean, only Aruba, the Bahamas and Bermuda have US pre-clearance facilities.
Gumbs addressed her concerns to Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT), Roger Lawrence, in yesterday’s public meeting of Parliament to handle the country’s 2022 Budget.
In her remarks, she questioned the rush to commit the country to US pre-clearance, which requires an initial investment of US $80 million and then annual operational costs of between $4 and $8 million. Costs might include providing gated community housing for American Customs & Border Patrol personnel, as well as paying for their family’s relocation and their children’s education fees, among other attached obligations.
Aside from the cost burden, Gumbs believes that the Government should focus on PJIA’s capacity issues. “This should be the priority if the airport is to regain its safety and security ratings from the International Civil Aviation Organization,” said MP Gumbs.
She also questioned the allocation of human resources that will be tasked with assessing the feasibility of US preclearance for PJIA.
“While I applaud the Minister’s approach of forming an inter-ministerial committee to further investigate the topic,” MP Gumbs said in the meeting, “I assume this means frequent workgroup meetings to figure out how we could afford this investment and how it would work with US Customs personnel living and working here, and so forth. But this sounds like straining an already-under-capacity government taskforce. They would be discussing something that we know would not actually pass an airport audit by US Customs and Border Patrol, which happens before any further discussion. So why is this the focus?”
However, most concerning to MP Gumbs is the blatant disregard that the coalition demonstrates regarding the mental health and safety of all airport workers, especially air traffic controllers. In her remarks, MP Gumbs highlighted the recent Air Caraibes A330 emergency landing at PJIA, after its left engine caught fire after takeoff. She noted that Air Caraibes, aided and guided by PJIA air traffic control, was able to safely land at 7:30pm, when the runway is relatively quiet. MP Gumbs questioned how this scene would have unfolded if it had occurred at 12:00pm on a Saturday afternoon, which is peak hours for runway activity at PJIA.
“The reaction to that is ‘well we usually have aircraft incidents around Christmas time, so that is no reason to not pursue pre-clearance,’” MP Gumbs states. “I find this equally amusing and terrifying. If this is the type of logic the coalition wants to apply to high-expense issues like these, then maybe they should apply it to every aspect of governing. Think of the time and money we’ll save, not actually focusing on fixing our issues because they’re ‘usually’ what we’re dealing with.”
This is a continuation of what MP Gumbs calls the “deflection tactics” of several coalition MPs, where they lack facts to counter sound and valid arguments, instead resorting to personal insults.
“It is for the people of St. Maarten to question what these MPs have done, one being a representative of Sint Maarten non-stop for the last 40 years,” PFP MP Raeyhon Peterson commented. “What has been accomplished, in particular over the last decade, other than being the politician who has disrespected the Parliament and the Constitution more than anyone else in our young history?”